What Living in Silicon Beach Has Taught Me About Innovation

Man skateboarding in the middle of the road with cars palm trees and buildings on the side

I live and work in Playa Vista – that part of Los Angeles effectively known as “Silicon Beach” for the hundreds of technology companies started and headquartered in the area.

Companies like Snap, Hulu, Dollar Shave Club, TigerText, and TrueCar.

And from it, I have learned a big lesson about business innovation.

You see, around me are lots of business people who believe not just that innovation is easy, but that it’s actually what business is – i.e. disrupting the status quo via discovering and deploying the different and the better.

This is an awesome and effective work spirit – as evidenced by the massive values created by and ascribed to so many of these businesses.

But it has its drawbacks.

Among these is the somewhat uninspiring sameness of the typical tech startup – i.e. younger coders developing “apps” of – dare I say  – “marginal” societal value.

It can all feel somewhat “lightweight” and make one feel that a company has to get a bit “longer in the tooth” to develop the cultural values and organizational muscle to actually execute upon certain kinds of innovations.

Let’s take autonomous driving as an example, and consider whether its innovation and execution leaders will be startups or established automotive companies.

General Motors, as “established” a company as there ever was (for good and for bad!), has made huge investments in it – $500 million investment Lyft, $1 billion into Cruise Automation, along with focusing twenty thousand of its engineers, designers, and IT specialists on the space.

So if even General Motors – with all of its size, bureaucracy, and legacy challenges – can attempt to transform itself into something new (and extremely disruptive to its existing business) why can’t similarly “old” but much smaller companies do so too?

The answer is that of course they can.

And older companies should not blame lack of “technology” for not trying to do so.

Author Charles O’Reilly, in his book “Lead and Disrupt,” makes the point that technology is simply a tool that can be bought or built…

…and is not the determining factor in whether a company innovates and grows or stagnates and dies.

Instead, that determining factor is leadership.

 …in culture and values

…and in just getting things done.

A hundred years of business history shows us that many companies have innovated, changed, and grown for decades on end.

And my time in Silicon Beach has shown me that new companies are awesome, but that many business problems are better left to established, older players in the field.

Working on their own, or – even better – in partnerships and joint ventures with startups in the field.

Either way, age should never be an excuse.


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